Surprise: USPS Employees Now Barred From Signing Absentee Ballots As Witnesses
The U.S. Postal Service issued a little-noticed rule change this summer that bars employees from signing absentee ballots as witnesses while on duty, which Anchorage Daily News noted “could make it more difficult for Alaskans, particularly rural residents, to vote by mail.”
- Absentee ballots in Alaska and several other states “must be signed by a witness who can verify that a ballot was legitimately filled out by a particular voter,” and without this signature, the ballot will not be counted.
- In Alaska, ballot instructions tell voters to “have your signature witnessed by an authorized official or, if no official is reasonably available, by someone 18 years of age or older.”
- Postal officials are listed as an authorized official, according to the report, “but many Alaska voters said postal clerks told them they were forbidden from signing ballots.”
- Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai sent a letter to the Postal Service on Thursday in response to the complaints, writing:
“They have been told by the postal official that they are not authorized to serve as a witness in their official capacity. This came as surprise to the state because we know in past elections postal officials have served as witnesses. Rural Alaska relies heavily on postal officials as they are often sometimes the only option for a witness. ... Can you provide me with an explanation and a copy of the official postal regulation stating this mandate?”
- Fenumiai received a response from Daniel Bentley, a product management specialist for the Postal Service in Washington, D.C., on the same day.
- Bentley said, “Postal Employees are prohibited from serving as witnesses in their official capacity while on duty, due in part to the potential operational impacts. The Postal Service does not prohibit an employee from serving as a witness in their personal capacity off-duty, if they so choose.”
James Boxrud, a spokesman for the Postal Service in the western United States, said, “My understanding is this is a national thing that went out. It’s not just Alaska.”
Boxrud provided a copy of a training slide presented to clerks in July. The slide states in part, “Some state laws specifically authorize Postal Service employees to provide a witness signature on ballot envelopes. However, performing this function is not within the scope of a postal employee’s duties and is not required by the Postal Service’s regulations.”
This development comes as the Trump administration, particularly newly-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, has come under fire for changes in USPS operation that have resulted in a slowdown of mail delivery as interest in mail-in ballots increases amid the pandemic. President Trump repeatedly has falsely claimed that widespread mail-in ballots will lead to fraudulent election results.